Why Avengers: Infinity War Is So, So Dangerous
WARNING! AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR SPOILERS TO FOLLOW!
Let me say one thing, categorically and for the record: I LOVED this movie. It is the culmination of a decade of storytelling, thousands upon thousands of artists working together to create something that has never been done in the landscape of cinema - EVER. Avengers: Infinity War is an achievement of mythological proportions and I am not trying to take anything from anyone by writing this. Not Kevin Feige, not the writers, not the Russo Brothers, not anyone. However, there is a huge, glaring problem with the film that hasn't quite been pin-pointed yet and that has to be addressed. It's a problem that makes the film dangerous for a lot of people. And the problem is simply this:
Avengers: Infinity War equates abuse with love.
I am not the first person to say this, but I think I may be the first person to really articulate why this happens. But let me back up a little bit. For those of you who haven't seen it, Avengers: Infinity War is the 19th film in a series of interconnected solo and team-up superhero movies, each containing a more or less individual story that weaves together with each of the others to form a single, overarching narrative. That narrative involves two main plots, one of which dominates the films throughout, and another that exists mostly in the background until it smashes to the fore in Avengers: Infinity War. The first plot is the establishment, growth, and work of a team of super-powered individuals called the Avengers, charged with the protection of planet Earth. These heroes include long-time comic book A-listers like Captain America and the Incredible Hulk, as well as some perhaps lesser known characters, such as the Falcon or the Winter Soldier. The second plot line involves the emergence of the six Infinity Stones, rare cosmological gems imbued with catastrophic power, and the attempts of a powerful alien named Thanos to collect all six stones. With the power of all the stones united, Thanos hopes to erase from existence half of all life in the universe. This, he believes, will prevent what he sees as life's inevitable self-destruction as we, the living, burn through the universe's finite resources. "Too many mouths, not enough to go around," Thanos puts it in the film.
Of the six stones, five of them (AGAIN, SPOILERS! YOU'VE BEEN WARNED) Thanos successfully collects in Avengers: Infinity War by brute force. He destroys a planet to get one, a refugee ship to get the second, a mining colony to get the third. The fifth stone he collects he gets by beating Iron Man until another hero, Dr. Strange, gives up the stone. The sixth and final stone he literally rips from the forehead of an android hero known as the Vision.
But the fourth stone he collects is different. That stone, known as the Soul Stone, is located on the distant planet of Vormir. Thanos travels to Vormir with his adopted daughter, Gamora - although adopted may not exactly be the right word. Before his mission to collect the stones, Thanos traveled from planet to planet, wiping out half of the planet's population, one city at a time, with the help of his amassed army. Gamora's planet was one of these, and while her parents were murdered by Thanos' mercenaries, Gamora's life was spared. Thanos raised her as his own, training her through years of emotional manipulation and physical abuse to be the universe's greatest assassin. In that endeavor, he was successful. But he also caused Gamora to grow to hate him as she aged. She rebelled against her "father" and escaped his abuse, only to be kidnapped and held prisoner in Avengers: Infinity War until Thanos could force her to give up the location of the Soul Stone. Oh, and he accomplishes that by torturing her sister, another "adopted" child, in front of her.
When they arrive together on Vormir, they discover that the Soul Stone cannot simply be taken by force. It demands a sacrifice. "In order to take the stone," says the Stone Keeper, "You must lose that which you love." Thinking that the universe has judged him, Gamora laughs. "You love nothing! No one!" she says mockingly. But Thanos turns, tears in his eyes, and says simply, "No." Because he loves her. So he takes her by the wrist and throws her off a precipice. She dies.
Here's the thing. It is objectively abhorrent and vile and revolting that Thanos equates abuse with love. But it doesn't bother me that it's included in the film. I would imagine most abusers are under the impression that they love the ones they abuse. Nor do I think it's inappropriate to explore ideas like abuse and its trauma within the context of blockbuster entertainment. Comic books are the modern mythology, and films based on those stories are simply an extension of that mythology - and mythology deals with all kind of messed up stuff. No, it's not the fact that a character within the film equates abuse with love that really bothers me. What makes my skin crawl is that the film agrees with him. After Gamora dies, Thanos awakens in a river at the bottom of the precipice where he just murdered his adopted daughter, with the Soul Stone in his hand. The universe accepted his sacrifice and rewarded it with the soul stone. That's not a thematic choice - it's a narrative choice. The writers and directors and producers of the film all collectively chose to make that the plot of the film, and that is a choice that they cannot simply walk back.
And this is what makes the film so dangerous. Many people, children, spouses, will watch this film sitting next to their abuser and have it tell them: "The treatment you are receiving is love," not because Thanos says it, but because the universe of the film agrees with him when he does.
When Carly and I were first engaged, the man who did our premarital counseling described me as an "Obama," by which he meant that if I was allowed to talk long enough, I could convince nearly anybody to do nearly anything. Whatever your personal politics, it's hard to deny that President Obama was fairly persuasive - and so am I. Our counselor warned me to be careful not to abuse that power, and I shrugged it off. But abuse it I did. For the first year of our marriage, I manipulated Carly with my words at every turn, to the point where she began to feel that she might be legitimately crazy. Now, during this time, if anyone had asked me whether I loved my wife, I would have said yes, unequivocally - but my behavior certainly did not communicate that. And had we gone to see this movie together then, I can only imagine how disheartening that scene might have been for her.
Which is why we're writing about it now. Because others out there are in relationships now like the relationship we once had, like the one Thanos and Gamora had. And while the Marvel Cinematic Universe agrees with Thanos, the actual universe does not. God does not equate abuse with love, and neither should we. "Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends," (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a). If you or someone you know are in a situation where you fear abuse is or may be taking place, please reach out to us, call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), or go to www.thehotline.org for help.